Thursday, May 12, 2011

Prairie Dock Management

I have many small sites scattered around Blue Jay Barrens where the management aims at one particular species. This is the site of a former cedar thicket in which I found a few Prairie Dock plants. Prairie Dock is one of those prime indicators of prairie areas and the few plants in this site represented the entire Blue Jay Barrens population. I knew that available sunlight was an issue here, so I began removing some of the large cedars that were providing a near 100% canopy cover. Stumps are left to show the density of cedars at the start of the project. I actually left the stumps because it was hard to cut the big cedars close enough to the ground to keep them from being hit by DR Brush. If a stump had to be left, I wanted it to be tall enough that I could easily see it and avoid tripping over it in the tall grass. The result is a series of monuments to show where trees once stood.

There are now hundreds of Prairie Dock plants growing here. The plants have enough sunlight to produce viable seed and I’m beginning to see plants developing in some of the surrounding areas. Since I know that Prairie Dock will grow in hot, dry conditions produced by full sunlight, you might wonder why I don’t just remove all of the cedar trees. What I don’t know is how the other plants in the area will respond to all of that light. I want Prairie Dock to be the dominant plant on this site. I would hate to do something that would allow another plant to take over that dominant position. Some competition is occurring from woody shrubs, but it’s not yet terribly severe. I’ve already gone from having only a few plants, none of which produced flowers, to over a hundred blooming plants each season. Each year shows the population more securely established on the site.

These are my favorite leaves of any prairie plant. They’re impressive at a small size and will become even more impressive as they grow.

The Prairie Dock area is also the site of one of my early experiments. I was trying to see how effective girdling would be in eliminating larger deciduous trees. This Tuliptree had a two inch wide collar of bark and cambium removed from around the trunk. The removal occurred just below the remaining bark. You can see the cut made in the wood at the lower edge of the collar. I did this to several Wild Black Cherries as well as Tuliptrees. I don’t think I got deep enough the first year, because the trees continued to grow and all of the cuts began to heal over. The second year I made sure I cut down to the dead wood, but results were still poor. The cherries continued to grow and are still there today, but with some nasty scars where my girdling took place. The Tuliptrees took several years to die. It wouldn’t have taken much more time to just cut the trees down.

My initial thought was that I could kill the tree and let in light, but I wouldn’t have to mess around with removing the fallen tree. I could do the girdling in the summer when I wasn’t doing other management work and my progress would be significantly accelerated. So this is what I’m left with. The tree will come down a piece at a time and I’ll clean up the pieces and throw them on the brush pile.

At least I finally got the sunlight coming through. This area is now gradually filling up with Prairie Dock.

This small collection of new plants is more than I had when I started this project. I wish every project I undertook could be as successful as this.


  1. I like the leaving of the dead trees as I'm sure the resident woodpeckers appreciate your work. And thats great news on the Prairie Dock and as a side bonus in a couple years you can make some gluten free homemade bread! Which reminds me, we have Rumex crispus Curly Dock around here and I need to check on it.

  2. Prairie dock is one of my favorite prairie plants. Here in east-central Missouri it can be found along roadsides in Jefferson Co., but the best populations are at a couple of dolomite glades. Cedar removal and managed burns have resulted in a veritable explosion of prairie dock plants at these two sites, competing well even within the thick stands of big bluestem that occur at these sites.

    There is a cerambycid beetle, Ataxia hubbardi, that breeds in prairie dock taproots - you would be enormously lucky if these established at your site. Adults can be found on the flowering stems in fall.

    I've had little luck with girdling myself (although for a different purpose, trying to kill them for infestation by beetles which I can then try to rear out). For you, I hope you find a good way to do this, as the standing dead trees provide exceptional habitat for dead wood colonizing insects.

  3. Hi, Ted. I'll watch for the Ataxia. Someone told me that they paint the lower portion of the girdling wound with undiluted glyphosate concentrate and have been getting good tree kills this way. I may try that this summer.